This afternoon I visited a school in a lower-income part of town and saw again, first-hand, evidence of the inequity that happens every day in our special education programs. At this school, there is a classroom that has been designated for students with a particular disability; the teacher told me s/he has not had specialized training in teaching students with that disability, and the person designated by the district to serve that class (who DOES possess that specialized training) is only scheduled for one hour per week. Worse, that hour is supposed to be spent “consulting” with the teacher rather than providing direct service to students.
I also spent an hour talking (through an interpreter) with the parents of some students in the class, and though they are not English speakers, they are very aware that their children are not receiving appropriate services. What they don’t understand is WHY, since they also know that in other district schools, there are programs in place that would benefit their children.
“How do we get an intervention program at our school?” they asked me. “What can parents do?” And I was horribly embarrassed when I realized that the best advice I could give them was “learn the language of special ed and start to apply pressure using that language.”
To be honest, I ran for the school board because I knew that some people knew the language and others didn’t; I knew that situation was deeply unfair. The audit released by the school district this week validates that knowledge; in my personal opinion it is the biggest news to come out of the school district in a decade. But still I feel sad that the best advice I can give parents of underserved children is to learn the tactics of empowered parents. I know I gave them the best and most efficient advice; arguing that they should work WITH the system would have been unethical because the system doesn’t work right now. Still, it makes me deeply sad to acknowledge that our system of special education programs doesn’t yet work the way it should.
I also believe that district leadership (our new Assistant Superintendent Cecelia Dodge and her boss, Deputy Superintendent Richard Carranza) are fired up and willing to make real, sustained changes in the way our district serves students with disabilities, but what I believe doesn’t matter in the end. What will matter is whether Ms. Dodge and Mr. Carranza can make change happen at the school I visited today — so that the children who are currently enrolled in that school’s special day classes can realize their potential and receive the eduation they deserve. I’ll check back in six months or so to see how they are doing.